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Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce Luncheon speech

"Our priority is to help Alberta get through this downturn, and position the province for future prosperity."

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Thank you and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s wonderful to be back in the Peace Country!

As many of you know, I was raised nearby, in Fairview, and family trips down to Grande Prairie were often major events for us.

So it’s a pleasure to return to a city that’s full of memories for me.

Thank you to the Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce for the invitation.

I’m here today to talk about a subject that looms very large for Albertans and our government: the economy.

These are difficult days in our province, whether you’re a worker, an entrepreneur or an investor.

The energy sector has been hit especially hard, which affects other areas like manufacturing and construction.

In many ways, the province’s plight comes down to energy.

Oil prices have fallen, because of surging production and heightened uncertainty about global growth.

And Alberta producers have no choice but to accept discounted returns, because they can’t reach international markets.

At the same time, renewable resource sectors such as agriculture and forestry, which are vital to Grande Prairie, continue to drive the economy. They employ close to 100,000 people and generate roughly $12 billion in annual exports.

There are two lessons for our government in this situation.

One is that we must enhance Alberta’s existing strengths.

And the other is that we must encourage the growth of entirely new ones.

We have a responsibility to lead the province onto a different path, using economic development and diversification.

In choosing change, we realize that there are things we can’t control and things we can.

We can’t control the price of oil. But we can control our response. We can begin to change Alberta’s dependence on a single commodity and its vulnerability to price swings.

That’s why we created a new ministry called Economic Development and Trade, headed up by Minister Deron Bilous.

Our priority is to help Alberta get through this downturn, and position the province for future prosperity.

And we have a plan to accomplish that. The elements of our economic plan are:

  • Investing in infrastructure;
  • Working with the private sector to create jobs;
  • Focusing on diversification, with an emphasis on innovation and adding value;
  • Improving business access to capital; and
  • Improving market access for all of Alberta’s products—including energy, forestry and agricultural commodities.

Each of these elements is about helping the economy become more resilient, so it creates and sustains good, stable jobs and attracts fresh investment.

Economic development

It all starts with good policies.

We know that government doesn’t create jobs.

Our role is supporting job creators, and we’re doing this, including by bringing back the Summer Temporary Employment program.

The energy sector is certainly at the top of any list of job creators.

Oil exports are critical to Alberta’s success. They fuel prosperity for families and enterprises, including many in Grande Prairie.

But the United States – which has long been Alberta’s biggest customer – has now become our biggest rival. They have unconventional energy resources too, and they also have something we don’t have –access to tidewater– to get their energy to markets all over the world.

We need that too. Alberta’s producers must be able to sell to a wider range of buyers, if our province is to be better insulated from fluctuating commodity markets.

To do that, we need at least one pipeline to tidewater.

Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to transport oil. And any one of the three proposals under consideration would bring growth and investment for all Canadians.

Unfortunately, they are being held up by disputes over broader failures to act on environmental issues.

Now, under our government, Alberta has something novel: a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.

It’s built around a carbon price, a hard limit on oil sands emissions, phasing out coal and reducing methane emissions.

We developed the Climate Leadership Plan to counter the threat of climate change. And because made-in-Alberta solutions will work better than anything imposed from outside.

Our government also created the plan to answer critics who persist in attacking Alberta on environmental grounds.

The Climate Leadership Plan doesn’t guarantee success in discussions on pipelines and oil exports.

But it does shift the tone of the conversation. Alberta is now a leader in the fight against climate change.

Added to this, last summer, the country’s premiers finalized the Canadian Energy Strategy, which is a framework for mapping out Canada’s energy future.

The stage is now set for drama-free discussions about the pipelines that matter so much to Alberta.

I’ve been having those conversations…with Quebec’s Premier Couillard, New Brunswick’s Premier Gallant, Ontario’s Premier Wynne, Manitoba’s Premier Selinger and Prime Minister Trudeau, for starters.

Of course, discussions about markets aren’t just about energy. They apply to other sectors too, like forest and agriculture products.

And the barriers we face aren’t just a lack of infrastructure. Sometimes it’s discriminatory trade rules, like the recently repealed country-of-origin labelling rules that affected our beef industry for years.

Or the uncertainty that comes with the expiry of the softwood lumber agreement.

We need to keep working with Ottawa and other provinces…with industry…and with other stakeholders to build fair, predictable market access for all our products. And we are doing this.

At home, our government is being equally proactive. We’re encouraging economic development by drawing on another of Alberta’s strengths: the construction sector.

High demand during the boom led many Albertans to find employment in construction. And the downturn puts their jobs at risk.

Years of soaring population growth, combined with past failures to invest, have also created a substantial infrastructure deficit.

Government is keeping people at work and getting infrastructure built, by adopting a counter-cyclical strategy, on the advice of former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge.

Low interest rates and spare capacity make such investments more affordable right now.

Given the current economic climate, we need to continue our strong investment in infrastructure…

… and go on addressing the long-standing infrastructure deficit that affects Albertans’ quality of life.

You will see the results in and around this city.

The new Grande Prairie Regional Hospital is on track for completion in 2019.

It comes with expanded obstetrics capacity and space for future expansions in areas like operating rooms and surgical inpatient care.

As your city grows, your hospital will grow with it.

The hospital will have a training facility run in partnership with Grande Prairie Regional College, so more people can prepare for good jobs in the health-care sector.

Local schools systems are also growing to accommodate a bigger population.

Grande Prairie’s Catholic division will get two new schools with room for 1,450 students between them.

Three new public schools with total space for 2,250 students are also on the way…

…while three existing schools, École Nouvelle Frontière, Montrose and St. Kateri, are being modernized.

Transportation networks are getting enhancements too.

This year, we’ve scheduled 84 kilometres of safety, paving and intersection improvements along Highways 40 and 43; we hope to start upgrades on 49 kilometres of Emerson Trail as well.

Last year, our government provided $4.4 million through the GreenTRIP program to upgrade public transit fleets, stations and fare collection in Grande Prairie.

And we recently called for another round of applications for funding from this program, so we’d like to hear about your future plans.

Even as we create jobs, our government is investing in the people who fill them.

Enhancements we made to student loans this year offer improved assistance for low-income, northern and Indigenous students…

...including doubling grants for low-income learners, increasing loan limits, and making loans and grants available to apprentices.

And we are looking to build on Alberta’s apprenticeship system, so it remains responsive to the province’s changing needs.

Apprentices are crucial skilled workers. That’s why any who need technical training at post-secondary institutions will have a seat available to them.

Our government is also examining options for workforce retraining, particularly for people formerly employed in the energy sector.

And we are looking at increasing access to academic upgrading, and occupational certificate and diploma programs, to support underemployed Albertans in learning new knowledge and skills.

Economic diversification

Long-term thinking defines our approach to the economy.

Alberta can’t continue to rely on crude oil exports if it’s to remain a consistently successful high-wealth province.

Diversification is a must. And on government’s side, we’re already hard at work.

One of the best ways is to channel resources to people with bright ideas.

Entrepreneurs and job creators need access to capital on reasonable commercial terms, to get start-ups launched, to become bankable and to finance growth and innovation.

We are dispensing that capital to smart lenders who know what to do with it. 

We have increased ATB Financial’s borrowing limit by $1.5 billion.

ATB’s reach extends across the province. And now, promising start-ups anywhere in Alberta can access the capital they need to grow and thrive.

Our government is also investing another $50 million over two years in the Alberta Enterprise Corporation with the same goal in mind.

The AEC invests in venture capital funds to finance early-stage technology companies, ensuring that smaller enterprises have the investment, experience and knowledge to succeed.

Diversification is about finding new opportunities. And it’s also about adding value to existing areas.

There is a lot of room in the traditional energy industry for that. Alberta shouldn’t just be shipping its resources elsewhere. We ought to be processing them here and keeping the jobs at home.

Our government’s Petrochemicals Diversification Program will spur growth and investment this way.

And it will capitalize on growing global demand for petrochemical products — everything from detergents and fertilizers to plastics and textiles.

Our government is offering up to $500 million in royalty credits to encourage investment in new petrochemical facilities in Alberta.

Alberta’s petrochemicals sector currently employs almost 8,000 workers and supports another 40,000 Alberta jobs.

The program could attract between $3 billion and $5 billion worth of investment…

…while new facilities could generate up to 3,000 new jobs during construction alone, as well as more than 1,000 jobs once they start operating.

Tourism is another sector full of potential.

It already contributes $8 billion to our economy…and about 19,000 businesses that support 62,000 jobs directly and sustain a further 65,000 jobs indirectly.

With the Canadian dollar so low, it’s the right time to focus on encouraging Albertans to explore their own province…

…and attracting more visitors and getting them to stay for longer visits.

Grande Prairie has no shortage of attractions to draw them.

The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which opened its doors last fall, is only the latest. Partly with the help of provincial funding, it houses some age-old wonders in ultra-modern surroundings.

And I understand the museum has been a huge hit!

More than 62,000 visitors passed through its doors in the first three months.

Summer Games announcement

However, I can say that Grande Prairie has even more to get excited about.

I’m delighted to announce that you can expect another major attraction.

This city has been selected to host the 2018 Alberta Summer Games — congratulations!

Two summers from now, about 2,500 of the province’s fastest, strongest and most gifted young athletes, aged 11 to 17, will descend on Grande Prairie for three days of intense competition.

And many more visitors will come to watch. The total economic impact is expected to be around $3 million.

Your bid committee put together a fantastic proposal.

Sponsors and volunteers in Grande Prairie always come together for big events like this.

And I know you’ll do an amazing job as hosts.

Conclusion

Events like the Summer Games are a reminder of how forward-looking and optimistic Albertans are.

And that a bright future lies ahead of us.

Our government is working closely with job creators to reach that future, step by step, decision by decision.

It will take time. Solving the challenges of market access and economic diversification won’t be easy. Recovery won’t be a simple task.

But we have a plan. Our government has made a solid beginning since taking office last year.

And you will see further proof in the new legislative session starting next week, as well as in the budget we table.

Alberta will recover. It will change, becoming stronger than ever. That’s our promise and our goal.

Thank you. I’m happy to take questions.